Storytelling

October 27, 2009

Whoa–there went two hours of my life that I won’t be getting back.  I just finished my second VoiceThread.  I made a mistake and visited a classmate’s blog and saw her beautiful VoiceThread before I posted mine.  I had to go back to the drawing board.  Mine was silly in comparison.

I’m happy with my final product.  It’s not a bad first draft.  For my VoiceThread, I went back in time to the summer of 2008 when I spent a month in Europe.  I dug out the text of an email that I sent to friends just a few days before I returned to the US.  I’m proud of the email because it took courage to write and send.  The trip came at a pretty rough moment in my life, and the letter reflects the mix of emotions that I felt at the time.  It is playful, honest, joyful and also bittersweet.

It was tough to match visual images to the text of my letter.  I took very few pictures while I was in Europe, and the ones I have didn’t necessarily convey the story I wanted to tell.  For example, I wrote about Kathryn, a woman I met in Strasbourg who I respected enormously.  I have one photograph of Kathryn, and she is sleeping on a train.  Kathryn is an incredibly dynamic woman, but as you might expect, the photograph doesn’t convey that dynamism.

Perhaps I had a hard time with this project because I started with a text.  I also limited myself to my own photographs.  At times, online images may have suited my story better.  For instance, in my letter I describe my joy in discovering a Starbucks in Vienna (before you judge me, please listen to my story to understand why I went in and bought a coffee there).  I probably should have just used an image of the Starbucks logo, but I resisted doing that.  It was my trip and I wanted to use my photos.  In the end, not all of my images match my text, and that affects the quality of my storytelling.  There is a disconnect between what I say and what the viewer sees.

I am still intrigued by visual storytelling.  I think visual images are incredibly powerful, and I get goose bumps when I watch the StoryThread I write because. I love how the sound of a person’s voice can hint at so much about his/her identity.  Is this writer young or old?  Man or woman?  Joyful or sedate?  A native English speaker?

That being said, I’m not too crazy about the sound of my own voice.  And I messed up a lot when I tried to record.  It’s not so easy to read text without making any mistakes.  I have more respect for news anchors now.

I see lots of potential in using VoiceThread in my kindergarten immersion classroom.  I am excited to use it to record my students speaking French and then match their voices to visual images. This could build their confidence and also help them match oral language to more concrete representations of words and concepts.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

October 20, 2009

I’m going to start with an excuse.  I came down with a bad cold (the same junk that everyone else seems to also have) just about two weeks ago.  It, shall we say, limited my ability to participate in the online role-play.  I spent a lot of time in bed and watching episodes of “The Good Wife” last week instead of posting to the Ning. 

Alright, excuses are done. 

My online persona was a caricature of a stay-at-home Super Mom who wants her children to experience every opportunity under the sun.  I chose an image of a woman posing with her picture-perfect family in order to complete the caricature.  She lacked depth.  I had fun pretending to be her, although mostly I made fun of her and that feels icky.  I rehearsed a lot of old stereotypes.

For the most part, my posts and responses were silly.  I did  little persuasive writing and instead posted silly comments about how I hoped my children would wait to have sex until they were married and even semi-mocked another character who was deaf.  The forum was difficult for me to navigate.  I had a hard time knowing what was out there on the Ning.  I’ve come to rely on Facebook’s format that screams out at me “Hey, pay attention to these photos your friend just posted!” or a bunch of status updates that leave me thinking “Wow–who is this balloon kid that everyone is writing about?”  I needed a news feed that showed all of the recent activity so that I knew what was out there and who was interacting with whom. 

In the absence of a central online meeting place, I found myself slipping into the lazy role of not bringing anything new to the table, just critiquing the arguments that everyone else introduced.  I appreciated all the information that others posted.  I loved having a forum devoted to a single topic with lots of diverging opinions and research.  In this way, the role-play felt like a great example of collective knowledge and collaboration.

My feelings about the value of digital technology didn’t change much.  I still feel like it is valuable.  It’s also inevitable and I don’t think people can opt out.  But to me digital technology doesn’t make me feel like I do when I sing in French with a class of 5-year-olds, get a hand-written postcard in the mail or hike in Glacier National Park.  I think the really “stoopid” thing is thinking technology will ever replace those experiences in life.  It does, however, bring some pretty amazing things to us–like a bunch of Happy Birthday messages on your Facebook that make you feel loved or video footage of yourself presenting at a summer institute. 

I liked the role-play because it forced me to think more closely about technology and consider the issue from a different viewpoint because, in my real life, I’m no Mother Hubbard.  In the end, it helped me clarify how I feel about the value of digital technology.  And clarity is always a good thing.

Playing Around

October 7, 2009

As I read Jenkins this week, I thought a lot about what I have learned from role-play and simulation in my own life.  A little warning here: this is where I “out” myself as a total nerd.  I joined the debate team in high school and spent weekends arguing topics such as “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.” I debated five rounds each tournament and had to check the postings before each round to see if I was “aff” or “neg.”  I was never very good at debate because I lacked self-confidence.  But I understood the competing interests and arguments really well because I had to stand up in front of a judge and my opponent and argue (in a very structured format) either for or against each topic.

In late spring of each year, I followed the same group of kids to the state capitol to be a part of Youth Legislature for four days.  Basically, a bunch of high school kids go to the capitol and pretend to be senators, representatives, reporters and pages.  Together, we recreated the legislative session.  Each year, we elected a governor, secretary of state and majority and minority leaders for each chamber.  Rock stars emerged over the course of four days.  They were the kids who could stand up and make very compelling argument for or against legislation.  They also had considerable networking skills and buttered up other legislators to get support for their bills.

As if that wasn’t enough, I joined the Mock Trial team in college.  It was sort of ridiculous.  Basically, college students stage 3-hour-long mock trials with lawyers and witnesses.  The lawyers give opening and closing arguments and direct and cross-examine witnesses.  They are serious and poised.  The witnesses are more theatrical and funny.  I was also pretty bad at mock trial, but I still know how to object on the grounds of “lack of personal knowledge” and to ask the judge for permission to approach the bench.  I could have learned these things from Law & Order, but actually putting on a business suit (yes, we did wear suits) and living out the courtroom drama helped me understand what it’s like to actually argue a case.

All of this to say that when I first saw the words “role-play” and “simulation,” I thought “Oh no, that’s not me.”  Well, it turns out that it very much is me.  I have done lots of role-plays and simulations.  And these have been some of the most powerful learning experiences of my life.  In debate, mock trial and Youth Legislature, I got, as Jenkins writes, “a chance to see and do things that would be impossible in the real world” (p. 25).

In some respects, I feel my classroom is a big role-play.  I play a role with my students because I pretend I don’t speak English.  My students are required to communicate in their non-native language at school.  They get to use the French language to really communicate with other people. That would never happen unless they grew up in a bilingual home or lived in a Francophone country.  We don’t do many formal role-plays and simulations in my own classroom, but my students have lots of opportunities to play. I especially love to watch them play in the kitchen and  act out stories with the animals and dinosaurs.

I know I should have them do more role-plays.  For example, when we talk about flowers in the spring, my students could act out the growth of a flower.  They could also act out the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Boucle d’or et les trois ours) in December and January when they learn to tell the story in French.  They already do very basic online simulations with coin exchanges when they play Everyday Math games on the computer. Perhaps we could also do some simulations together as a class.  It would be interesting to see if and how these simulations and role-plays deepen my students’ understanding of the French and the concepts we are studying.